One could easily reach the conclusion that there are a whole bunch of guys named Harlan Coben. He has published a series of books about a somewhat off-kilter sports agent named Myron Bolitar --- more on him in a minute --- that are best characterized as noir with a sense of humor. His last several novels, however, have been dark tales dealing with innocents caught up in circumstances that spiral frighteningly out of their control. Coben has been picking up readership in leaps and bounds with each successive novel, to the extent that he seems to be attaining that rare and enviable status of "household name" recognition. Coben's latest, THE INNOCENT, is Exhibit A in the case for why that place of honor is so deserved.
THE INNOCENT is a bit different from Coben's other works. Matt Hunter is a guy whose life goes suddenly and horribly wrong in a brief instant when he attempts to break up a fight and winds up accidentally killing a man. After serving a stint in prison, Hunter actually rehabilitates himself by completing law school, joining his brother's law firm as a paralegal, and marrying Olivia, the girl of his dreams.
Hunter's serenity is abruptly shattered, however, by an inexplicable video sent from Olivia's cell phone that appears to show Olivia in a hotel room with another man. When the death of a nun in a nearby convent appears to be the result of murder, circumstances seem to connect her to Hunter, who never met the woman. The police begin to keep an eye on Hunter, who, in fairness, seems to be a likely suspect. To make matters worse, Hunter cannot locate Olivia, while the man in the video seems to have no trouble contacting Hunter and taunting him. What Hunter doesn't know is that he is indirectly tied to events that occurred almost a decade ago. The connection is one that neither he nor the reader will ever suspect.
Coben is at the top of his game here, crafting a suspenseful narrative that encompasses a puzzling but ultimately satisfying mystery that perplexes even as it entertains. And as if this weren't enough to make THE INNOCENT of interest to new and old Coben fans, the volume also contains a new Myron Bolitar short story titled "The Rise and Fall of Super D." The story, about the hazards of dipping one's pen in the wrong inkwell, is a cautionary tale that contains enough double-crosses in a dozen pages to fill a full-length novel. Given the main story and the appended short story, THE INNOCENT is not to be missed.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011